Am Poppelsdorfer Weiher

School has begun again already! However, Wednesday was beautiful and after a day indoors it was good to get out in the sun. I joined a group of sketchers on the bank of the Poppelsdorfer Weiher (pond) in Bonn, by the bridge.  There were at least a dozen sketchers plus lots of students and families enjoying the evening sun on the grass in front of the Schloss.  While drawing, a woman walked over the bridge with a giant bunch of balloons – I quickly scribbled her into the drawing with a pencil and then developed the figure with ink.  A group of students were playing football just behind us when suddenly we heard a loud  “Entschuldigung!” as their ball came flying through our group of sketchers. Luckily for us it didn’t hit anyone; unluckily for them it went rolling down the bank and into the water!  A couple of young men stared morosely at the ball for a while and then went away. Ten minutes later they were back in their swimming trunks!  With more onlookers on the bridge, they had quite an audience and much laughter and applause as they retrieved their ball.  (Not sure why it took two of them but one went into the water from each side – maybe they thought that one might have to rescue the other one!). I wish that I had tried to sketch them!  These incidental events are one of the joys of sketching outdoors. 

A5 Hahnemühle sketchbook, Pilot G-TEC C4 (0.4 mm) fineliner, HB pencil. 

Ruine Montfort

This old ruin is in the middle of nowhere.  The nearest public transport is a good 5 km away so I had to plan a hike between distant busstops that would take me past this old castle.  It was a gorgeous day – clear blue sky and around 25 degrees C – a perfect walking day with a sunhat.  On the way there, when just a few hundred metres away, the road was suddenly closed  for forestry work, I had to reroute through the forest and find another way.  I got lost in the forest which added another hour and 3-4 km to the walk. All the way there, more than two hours’ walking,  I did not meet another soul although I could hear the foresters at a distance.  I ate my sandwiches in the ruined castle and then looked around. It has been made safe for visitors and has marvellous views of the surrounding countryside. A new spiral staircase took me up to the ramparts from where I drew the first drawing, which gives an idea of the layout.  Near the top right hand corner of this drawing is where I sat to draw the next one. 

The local stone is sandstone, red and grey types. Some of the stone is covered with the most brilliant yellow lichen – I saw this elsewhere in the area but cannot recall coming across such extensive yellow lichen anywhere else. In bright sunlight, it was a joyous sight. While I was drawing, I could smell smoke – someone nearby was having an illegal barbecue just below the walls out of sight…

The Altenbaumburg in Altenbamberg

On an overcast and humid day, I persuaded myself that I needed exercise and I walked from Bad Münster am Stein to Altenberg, the nearest village on the Alsenz river, a tributary of the Nahe.  I walked through forest most of the way and then along a road up the steepest part of the hill (only 3-4 km altogether). The Altenbaumburg is a ruin although a part of the castle has been maintained and serves as a restaurant.  There are good 180+ degree views of the village Altenbamberg, below, and of the surrounding countryside. The ruin is overgrown (living up to its name which literally means “old tree castle”) but there are paths up, down and through it and some steps. Lots of kids running around – plenty to investigate. I ate my sandwiches in a grassy corner while looking at these steps:

There is a bridge that connects the castle, which is on its own “mound”, with the neighbouring forest.  From the other side of the bridge, I drew the next view.  I have overdone the foliage, which was as varied as the drawing suggests but I need to work on my mark-making-for-foliage skills.  I worked in a hurry because the weather forecast had predicted rain and possibly a storm and it certainly looked that way but, in the end, the weather remained dull and sultry – sticky headache weather. 

There is another castle ruin on the next hill, according to the map, and so I looked for this.  It turned out to be even more overgrown than the Altenbaumburg and, although I found some steps leading up above the foundations, they seemed to lead into brambles which may well have extended over the entire surface and I decided to leave well alone.  There was nothing interesting to see from the path just beneath. The view from the top of the hill included a good one of the hourly train, which I had just missed so when I arrived down below, I decided to draw a view of the village and wait for the next one rather than walking back in the balmy heat.  

Churches in central Rheinland-Pfalz often have towers somewhere between a straight spire and the Zwiebeltürme (“onion towers”) found in Bayern.  I just found space for the tower of the catholic church of St. Maria Gebürt & St. Mauritius.  The protestant church is almost next door but out of range of the drawing.  A drawing containing both would have been good because they are such different architectural styles but I am not sure that there would be a safe place to sit /stand to do this. The small circular structure on the right-hand side is an old wine press, a commonly-seen object in this wine-growing region. 

Recent drawings from along the Nahe river

I have just spent two weeks in Bad Münster am Stein beside the Nahe river in Rheinland Pfalz. This was my first trip to the region but definitely not the last.  Bad Münster has been a spa resort for just over a century and has mostly grown up since then as a modern but still small town with relatively few older buildings.  However, its character stems from its setting in a narrow gorge between dramatic and beautiful sandstone rocks, which limit the town’s size.  Most recent development has occurred in Ebernburg, the town that lies just across the river. The Nahe is at its wildest here with a series of bends providing a range of vistas, small weirs and rapids, interpersed with calmer sections of water. Herons and cormorants fish here and electric blue and turquoise dragonflies flit through the orchids that grow wild on the river banks.  The high rocks gradually become rolling hills in the surrounding area, on which lie vineyards.  The Nahe valley is a major producer of white wine, especially Riesling, in Germany.  

My drawings focused mainly on the many wonderful old ruins to be found in the area.  They were drawn with a fineliner and coloured using stubs of Derwent’s Aquatone watercolour sticks. This has been my go-to travel watercolour set for some time and is a really lightweight and compact paint set (it fits in a piece of polystyrene in a cough sweet tin) but I intend to switch to half-pans in order to change my colour range and make it easier to lather up the paint.

Burg Rheingrafenstein lies above the Nahe above the town of Bad Münster am Stein.  It can be reached by taking a ferry and then walking up a fairly steep path through forest.  The path becomes a winding set of steps – hard work but worth it for the glorious view from the top.  This drawing was made looking up from across the river, while a cormorant fished nearby.  There is also a very good icecream kiosk just there. 

From the balcony of my apartment, I could see the rocks further along the river.  The highest point is called the Bastei (ancient artillery fortification) and it is possible to walk along quite a long section of the cliffs, with marvellous views of the two towns and river below and the hills way beyond.  I drew the rock face at different times of day.  This one drawn mid-morning had the best value contrasts and best represents the magnitude and drama of the rocks.

This is a view from the balcony in the other direction.  Apart from the road and rail bridge, a second pedestrian bridge includes a sheltered seating area  (the odd “mushroom” in the drawing) from where one of the wilder sections of the river can be admired.  At this point, a second river, the Alsenz, enters the Nahe.  On warm days, it is a lovely spot to sit and enjoy the view and a cool breeze.  

An information board explains that JMW Turner painted here.  Here is a first and second link to Turner’s paintings of this area, both of which are in the Tate Gallery in London.  I feel slightly embarrassed placing my own work alongside Turner’s …..

One day, I began a walk from a village called Odernheim-am-Glan.  The Glan river is another tributary of the Nahe. As I got off the bus, I saw this wonderful old mill beside a weir and sat down to draw it. 

Another drawing from the balcony…this time looking straight ahead across the river to the the small town of Ebernburg.  In order to practise continuous drawing, I tried to draw the rooftops without lifting my pen from the paper too often. Hence, a somewhat wonky drawing…

In the centre of the neighbouring spa town of Bad Kreuznach is this splendid old bridge, complete with a house in the middle of it!  The bridge is currently being renovated – the entire structure beneath the house must be renewed bit by bit! 

Reiseskizzenbuch – Bonn Hauptbahnhof

My evening class group has continued to meet once a week over the summer to sketch together.  About 10 days ago, on a steamy summer’s evening, we sat on the grass above the underpass which runs between the bus station and Popplesdorfer Allee, beneath the railway by Bonn’s main station.  This underpass (Unterfuhrung in German) links the bustling centre of town with the more refined residential Sudstadt.

The drawing was made using a fineliner in a Fabriano Venezio sketchbook, which is a non-standard size, a bit larger than A5. Colour was added later using Inktense pencils.

Screen Shot 2013 08 11 at 13 14 45

Recent Sketches

For the past few weeks, I have been dealing with the practicalities of moving as well as those of the end of the school year, which is always more hectic than it ought to be.  Sketching has been relegated to odd moments.  This post is a hotch-potch of sketches made during this period. Unless otherwise stated, the drawings were made in an A5 Hahnemühle sketchbook.

Firstly, here are sketches made during two Reiseskizzenbuch evening classes. The first drawings were made in the Bachstraße, behind the Landesmuseum in Bonn.  This quiet tree-lined street in Bonn’s Weststadt has diverse architecture.  Many of the houses bear elaborate carvings typical of those built during the Gründerzeit, the mid to late 19th century. Houses built during this period often reflected the wealth and social standing of their owners through the use of neo-classical and neo-renaissance design and are sought after today.

For me personally, the most interesting aspects of these houses are to be found in their upper storeys and it was on these that I focused.  The first drawing was made in pencil (2H, HB and 2B).  I aimed to vary the detail in the drawing so that the carved pillar / statue nearer the viewer appears to be more in focus than the one on the right, which is further away; however, the further one needs a little more modelling as it appears too flat in the face. I did not spend enough time planning this drawing, which is not properly situated on the page and yet, perhaps, its asymmetricality gives it a certain energy.


For the second drawing, I used Derwent Graphitint pencils, unused for a while, plus a selective wash. My eye was taken by the little angel in the centre, looking protectively down on the house. The spatter is due to rain the following week!


The following Thursday, we drew in the area just to the north of the Bonner Münster.  It was freezing cold and drizzled for much of the time so we seated ourselves underneath the awning of a clothes store.

The first drawing is of the massive sculpted heads of Cassius and Florentius which lie on the paving at the eastern end of the Münsterplatz.  This was drawn with a fineliner. The drawing was not completed due to the onset of rain (some spatter evident) but maybe works better for having the further head in outline only, providing a foreground focus.


While it drizzled, we sat under an awning and continued to draw.  The next drawing puts the heads of the two martyrs in context and conveys a better sense of their size. Bonn has a history stretching back 2,000 years to Roman times.  According to legend, Cassius and Florentius were legionnaires who executed for refusing to worship pagan gods.  Their remains are now in the crypt of the Münster.  The drawing was made with HB pencil, Graphitint pencils and wash. I added fineliner to give more definition to the image.  The view is of the exterior walls to the Münster gardens which are not, as far as I know, open to the public. The figure in front of the tree was standing with his briefcase on the ground and is not, in fact, kneeling as he appears to be… The image is rather drab, reflecting my feelings about the weather.  It would be interesting to do a series of drawings of a scene under different weather / lighting conditions to see the variation, which I suspect would be due as much to personal response to the weather as to the lighting conditions themselves.  This drawing definitely reflects that it was made on a dull, cold, wet evening…


Because the drawings above were made rather quickly, I wanted to spend more time on a single drawing and pay attention to detail. The following week, I drew another fineliner drawing over a least an hour.  This sketchbook is almost finished and the pages no longer lie flat, hence the dark shadow in the centre of the scanned image.  The weather was very different – warm and sunny – and the city was full of people sitting out enjoying the summer evening.  This city gate – the Sterntor – looks authentic but is not the original, which dated from the 13th century but was torn down at the end of the nineteenth century.  It was rebuilt shortly afterwards from a mish-mash of original bits of old wall and tower.


Here are two drawings made during the days immediately after my recent move when I was still surrounded by cardboard boxes… The first drawing is made with a Graphitint pencils and the second with a black gel pen. Both drawings were made in a square format sketchbook but have been scanned which has altered the format. I had difficulty in getting the correct angle for the open door which is situated along a wall that cuts off a corner of the living room.  This provides a great view of the gardens and fields beyond but is a challenge to draw. I have tried to use the light and shade falling on the boxes to convey a sense of their mass.



Finally, I have been trying too get a drawing group off the ground over the past months.  That I have not been very successful is entirely due to my lack of skill and dedication in organising events.  However, last weekend two of us did meet up and draw in the Japanese Garden in the Bonner Rheinaue.  While drawing, an event in the park organised by the local Filipino community provided home-grown music to accompany us as we drew in the sun.

Again, I decided to take time with a single drawing using a fineliner.  This drawing is of the cascade in the garden. Drawing water is always difficult.  I have tried to capture it by drawing everything around the water and hoping that the water would suggest itself as negative space. This works to an extent at the front of the cascade but gets lost further away where the water lies in the shade. I omitted the foliage on the central tree in order to use the shapes created by the branches and not to add extra “fuss”.


Reworking Assignment 5

The orchid drawing submitted for Assignment 5 required more tonal contrast and I worked on this yesterday.  Specifically, my tutor advised me to address the following:

– work on the edges of the flowers to remove the white paper.

– add marks that describe the surface of the soil

– add more darks to add depth to the image.

I printed off an A4 copy of the photograph that I had taken earlier of the “finished” drawing and used this as a basis for experimenting with mark-making and tone.  I then scanned in the drawn-on copy and converted both the original and the worked-up image into b&w to get a better sense of tonal contrasts. Here are all four of those images for comparison.  The top row is the original drawing and the bottom row is of the “new improved” sketchbook version.

Screen Shot 2013 05 13 at 21 09 43

Colour differences do exist but the photograph exaggerates these – too much light seems to bounce off the surface of the drawing in the photograph. However, I can see a difference in the “real” images and,  even here, the differences in the soil texture and tone are visible.  The soil is definitely darker and more “soil-like” but the actual soil has more light reflecting off some woody particles so I decided that I would add more light to the soil in the final drawing.  The leaves are also more distinct .  They are tricky because, while being darker in colour than the flowers, they are shiny and reflect the light quite brightly, so do not appear dark at all in direct light.

I experimented with some different textures in the background but was afraid of overworking this. The background has to be just dark enough to project the flowers forward a little towards the viewer but not so dark that it becomes a focal point.  That said, possibly a very dark background is exactly what is required but I am afraid of losing the detracting from the flowers so am not changing this now. Having decided against an intense background (centre right of image), I opted for a lighter ground with a few darker marks creating a loose network in the background (upper left corner)and, through that, a little more depth.

In the final drawing, I added tones under the leaves where the soil is in shade, and where the leaves overlap each other, in stages, checking each stage with a b&w photo until I achieved the required intensity. I am sure that some people would go further with this but courage fails just now.  The final drawing below is not well reproduced but it does give an indication of how the build-up of tone was finally achieved, and also of improved leaf texture – more undulation in their surface. There is more depth now compared with the original image (top) and better soil and leaf texture, with depths within the soil itself.  I have worked on the edges of the flowers, darkening areas of the background very slightly, in order to bring them further forward.  This can be seen better in the actual drawing – this post can only serve to document the process.

The lighting conditions are different but, taking this into account, the extra tone in the final version (below, right) compared with the original drawing (left), is apparent.

Screen Shot 2013 05 19 at 16 24 56